Thomas Trautmann

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Thomas Roger Trautmann (born May 27, 1940) is an American historian, cultural anthropologist, and Professor Emeritus of History and Anthropology at the University of Michigan.



Aryans and British India

  • The Aryan idea stood as a sign of kinship and the political rhetoric of love; those who rejected the rhetoric of love, and they were many, also tended to ignore or attack the Aryan idea, to deny a close kinship of Britons and Indians, and to oppose the Orientalists.-(48)
    • p 18 . quoted in Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. p 48
  • As Trautmann notes: "This tree paradigm remains very much the foundation of historical linguistics to this day, although a kind of willful collective amnesia has tended to suppress its biblical origins. . . . In the self-conception of linguistics there came to be a strong tendency to imagine that its central conceptual structure comes from comparative anatomy and to forget that it comes from the Bible" (1997, 57).
    • 56-57 . quoted in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. ch 1
  • British Indomania did not die of natural causes; it was killed off. The Indophobia that became the norm in early-nineteenth-century Britain was constructed by Evangelicalism and Utilitarianism, and its chief architects were Charles Grant and James Mill.
    • Trautmann, Thomas R. (2008). Aryans and British India. p. 99
  • This uncompromising judgment falls especially upon those Indians who are under British rule, the Bengalis, and among them especially the Hindus, and the content of their moral depravity (which Grant descants upon at length) is that they are lacking in truth, honesty, and good faith to a degree not found in European society. Grant is blunt in the interest not of condemning the Indians but of determining "their true place in the moral scale," ... What he insists upon is the universality of this great depravity in Hindu society, giving it a general moral hue, "between which and the European moral complexion there is a difference analogous to the difference of the natural colour of the two races" (1796:25). But the purpose is neither condemnation for its own sake nor to assert the permanent inferiority of another race.
    • 103
  • James Mill's highly influential History of British India (1817), most particularly the long essay "Of the Hindus," comprising ten chapters, is the single most important source of British Indophobia and hostility to Orientalism.
    • 117. Trautmann, Thomas R. (2008). Aryans and British India.
  • The argument from silence was once regarded as a weak argument, to be used sparingly and with care, but for some time now authors have become responsible for the infinity of what they do not say, and they are liable to be charged with erasures, elisions, suppressions, guilty silences, and significant omissions. The argument from silence is made more easily today, but even by the higher standard of the past, the complete silence of Grant and Mill on the core argument of Jones is surely significant of a tendency to stress the difference "every way" of the Indians and the British.
    • 121
  • For what profoundly separated Jones and Mill, and the Oriental renaissance from British Indophobia, was the power of the idea of ancient wisdom in the one, and of progress or future wisdom in the other. The Oriental renaissance depended upon the conviction that a numinous truth was captured in the Veda, that this wisdom was mankind's original religion and the source of civilization. As opposed to that, it was the formation of an idea of progress unqualified by the idea of ancient wisdom that sustained Mill and gave him the theoretical grounding for an aggressive policy of modernization. With the idea that the primitive condition of humankind was rude, ignorant, and barbarous, Mill quashed the ancient wisdom idea and forced new, harsh readings of India's past upon the scholarly product of Orientalism.
    • 129
  • It is worth saying again: Indophobia did not spring up naturally from the soil of Britain, it was deliberately built. India was very different from Britain, to be sure, but Britons did not believe they were "every way different" from the Indians until Grant taught them to think so.
    • 130
  • The Boden Professorship had been privately endowed for the purpose of promoting the spread of Christianity by the translation of the Bible into Sanskrit. It was awarded to Monier-Williams by vote of convocation following a period of heavy lobbying, in which Max Muller's broad religious views and foreign birth worked against him even though he was much the better Sanskritist. It was a bitter defeat for him...
    • 173
  • The paradox of these developments is that in spite of the growing distrust between Sanskritists and race science, the two sides of an often noisy dispute nevertheless collaborated, without really meaning to, in the creation of an enduring synthesis, what I call the racial theory of Indian civilization. By this I mean the theory, which by century's end had become a settled fact, that the constitutive event for Indian civilization, the Big Bang through which it came into being, was the clash between invading, fair-skinned, civilized Sanskrit-speaking Aryans and dark-skinned, barbarous aborigines. It was a local application of the double binary that guided all nineteenth-century European ethnologies, the double binary of the fair and the dark, the civilized and the savage.
    • 194
  • The [Dasyu/Dasa] image of the 'dark-skinned savage' is only imposed on the Vedic evidence with a considerable amount of text-torturing.
    • p 208 as attributed in [1]
  • The argument I should like to make, then, is not that the racial theory of Indian civilization is a fabrication, a tissue of lies, or that the Veda has nothing useful to say (or nothing that we can reasonably draw from it) about the ethnological situation of its time. What I want to show is that the Vedic evidence that has been brought forward has been subjected to a consistent overreading in favor of a racializing interpretation, and that the image of the "dark-skinned savage" is only imposed on the Vedic evidence with a considerable amount of text-torturing, both "substantive" and "adjectival" in character.
    • p 208
  • ...Macdonell and Keith wish to impose the "dark-skinned savage" on what the R# Veda says about the Dasyus/Dasas, but that the text does not entirely cooperate with the two parts of this image: First, darkness of skin was not a salient marker of Dasyu/Dasa identity to the hymn writers, for whom the most important attributes of these enemies had rather to do with language and religion; the matter of flat noses is limited to a single disputed passage. Second, the Dasyus/Dasas are depicted as wealthy and powerful opponents, but Macdonell and Keith minimize this evidence and represent them instead as marginal, barbarous hill tribes, consistent with their image of the dark-skinned savage.... What is remarkable about these articles is the way in which they extract the dark-skinned savage from a very recalcitrant Vedic text. The first half of the image is drawn from a grand total of two passages referring to dark skin and a single one interpreted to mean "flat-nosed" against ancient authorities. But, as the articles themselves make abundantly clear, the significant social markers separating Aryas from Dasas or Dasyus for the writers of the texts are religion, above all, and language, while complexion is barely mentioned. The second half of the image, savagery, is completely contrary to the evidence of wealth and many forts possessed by these enemies, which the authors dismiss without evidence.
    • 208-9
  • "In this fantastic back-projection of systems of racial segregation in the American South and in South Africa onto early Indian history, the relations of the British "new invader from Europe" with the peoples of India is prefigured thousands of years before by the invading Aryans."
    • Trautmann 1997:211 Aryans and British India.
  • The evidentiary base of the racial theory of Indian civilization was never very firm, and subsequent developments have only served to weaken it further. Its great appeal for Europeans had been that it attributed the civilizing of India to peoples related to themselves. But, by the 1920s, it became plain that mounds of old brick being excavated in the Indus valley were the remains of an urban civilization that was older than the chronological horizon of the Veda. The discovery of the Indus Civilization should have put paid to the racial theory of Indian civilization... That the racial theory of Indian civilization still lingers is a miracle of faith.
    • 215
  • Why project an alien [racial] discourse onto the distant Indian past?
    • 216, brackets added in Danino, M. (2009). A BRIEF NOTE ON THE ARYAN INVASION THEORY. PRAGATI| April-June 2009
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